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Collapsed fishery for endangered fish to receive eco-label


July 15 2010 Charles Clover


Adams River sockeye

Adams River Sockeye

Jeffery Young

A collapsed Canadian salmon fishery is to receive an eco-label after objections from conservationists were rejected by an independent adjudicator.

Nearly all the Fraser River sockeye salmon populations collapsed last year and fishing was stopped after only 13 per cent of the expected 10.5 million salmon returned to spawn.

Fish stocks are now at an all-time low and a federal judicial inquiry is currently investigating the fisheries management system to see if it needs reform.

Three environmental groups objected in February to a decision by a certification company that the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery should be certified as sustainable and well-managed by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Under the MSC's increasingly controversial third-party certification process, companies hired by the fishing industry determine whether a fishery meets the MSC's criteria for eco-certification.

An independent adjudicator brought in to decide whether the certification should go ahead despite objections dismissed the conservationists’ objections.

The adjudicator, Canadian attorney Wylie Spicer, cleared the way for Fraser River sockeye to be eligible to carry the MSC eco-label, though he conceded that there were “issues of concern.”


Two sockeye populations routinely caught by the Fraser River fishery have been listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) since 2003.

The three conservation groups who objected in February, the David Suzuki Foundation, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Watershed Watch Salmon Society, criticised his ruling.

SkeenaWild’s executive director, Greg Knox, said: “By any definition, this is not a sustainable fishery.”

“There is no way these kinds of endangered salmon should be considered a sustainable choice until the fisheries management system is improved and stocks given a chance to recover.”

Jeffery Young, a biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation, said:

“This certification could actually result in well-intentioned consumers buying an endangered Fraser River sockeye with an eco-label on it.”

On 2 July, three units of the British Columbia sockeye fishery — Barkley Sound, the Nass and the Skeena — earned MSC certification. The fourth unit, the Fraser River, was put on hold pending the independent adjudicator’s ruling. The fishery set out to gain MSC certification in 2001.

The Canadian Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Society (CPSFS) applauded the ruling, saying that the conditions that MSC certification would impose on the fishery managers in future would be an improvement.

Christina Burridge of the CPSFS, said: “This is tough stuff,” said Even opponents of certification have said the conditions are excellent. MSC certification’s market incentives really do improve fisheries management.”

Mike Griswold, a salmon fisherman, said: “Anyone can manage a fishery when there are lots of fish, or when there are no fish. But when times are uncertain, that’s when you need clear harvest rules and full management accountability. MSC certification helps delivers that accountability.”


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